Bangladeshi police are examining photos that were reportedly released online by a media outfit of the Islamic State group to determine whether masked militants shown pledging allegiance to its new leader are Bangladesh citizens, officials said Monday.
Nasher news, a website that publishes information released by Islamic State, posted photographs over the weekend that purported to show groups of militants from Bangladesh and Egypt separately swearing their loyalty to Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, the new leader of IS, according to the Associated Press.
He took over as the top IS leader after Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi blew himself up by detonating a suicide vest while U.S. Special Forces were closing during a raid in northwestern Syria on Oct. 26.
“Yes, we have seen the photos that many media reported them as Bangladeshis. We are examining the photos to ascertain whether they were Bangladeshis at all,” Saiful Islam, a deputy commissioner of the counter terrorism and transnational crimes unit at the Dhaka Metropolitan Police, told BenarNews.
The Nasher website is not visible in Bangladesh but the police have seen the photos published through international media, according to Islam.
Some of the photos purport to show a group of Bangladeshis standing under the black IS flag with their faces masked, raising their index fingers in a pledge of allegiance to Abu Ibrahim, AP first reported.
“The photos are hard to verify as their faces were covered. Also, it is very difficult to ascertain the location of the photos,” Islam said, adding, “We have a dedicated cybercrimes unit. We monitor the online activities of the militants. Our experts will try to verify the photos.”
Authorities blamed Neo-JMB, a pro-Islamic State Bangladeshi militant group, for the country’s deadliest terrorist attack, an overnight siege at a Dhaka café that killed 29 people in July 2016. Since then, however, government officials have insisted that IS does not have a foothold in the South Asian nation.
“We have a list of the militants who have been missing. There are reports in international media that they went to Iraq and Syria for fighting in favor of IS. Our official position is [that] IS has no presence in Bangladesh,” Islam told Benar.
He said police had alerted local airports to watch out for any Bangladeshi IS sympathizers trying to return home from the Middle East.
“We will not let them enter Bangladesh,” Islam said. “In case any of them enters Bangladesh, they will be arrested immediately.”
Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said the government was not worried about potential terrorist attacks in retaliation for al-Baghdadi’s death.
“IS has no foothold in Bangladesh. The home-grown militants use the IS name to add value to its brand. ‘IS in Bangladesh’ is an international propaganda,” the minister told BenarNews.
“Anti-militant operations have been on. We are not worried about Baghdadi’s death,” he added. “Our police and Rapid Action Battalion have been working; our intelligence agencies have been working. We will in no way allow the militants to stand up.”
A security analyst, retired Maj. Gen. A.K.M. Mohammad Ali Sikdir, said it was difficult to tell whether the masked people in the photos were Bangladeshis or determine where the photographs were taken.
But he did not rule out the possibility that these were Bangladeshis, saying that less than 100 citizens of the country had gone to Iraq and Syria to fight for IS.
“Many of these IS fighters have been killed in military operations in Iraq and Syria. But a good number of them have been hiding in Iraq and Syria after the destruction of the caliphate,” Sikdir said.
“The surviving militants have no place to go. They cannot even return to Bangladesh. So what would these militants do? They have no alternative but show allegiance to IS and its leadership.”